New single port robot changing robotic surgery at UAB

Patients at UAB now have access to state-of-the-art robotic surgery technology.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham, one of the nation’s leading hospitals in robotic surgery volume, is enhancing its robotic surgery portfolio.

The School of Medicine recently added the new da Vinci SP® Single Port Surgical System by Intuitive Surgical, making UAB one of only 15 medical sites in the country with the single port robot.

The state-of-the-art technology of the SP robot paired with its innovative design — which enables surgeons to enter the body through one small abdominal incision before deploying the robot’s surgical instruments — improves patient outcomes and recovery time. This is particularly noticeable in cancer cases, where surgeons can now access more narrow spaces without compromising precision. Currently, the SP robot is only FDA-approved for urological surgeries.

“To be able to add the SP robot as an option for our urologic patients here at UAB cements us as a premier provider of surgical care,” said Jeffrey Nix, M.D., assistant professor in UAB’s Department of Urology, director of robotic surgery-urology and associate scientist in the O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We are beyond proud that this unique surgical approach is available in our hospital. We believe the SP robot will help us continue to better our patients’ health outcomes.”

In January of 2019, Nix and his surgical team successfully completed one of the first surgeries in the Southeast with the SP robot. Brothers Bob Agee of Auburn, Alabama, and Rick Agee of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, both underwent a prostatectomy on the same day.

“Prostate cancer runs in our family what makes our case interesting really is that my dad is one of six boys, and it was like checking them off the list — each and every one had prostate cancer,” Bob said. “We kind of knew that it was something we would have. I think when my cancer was found that it got more important for Rick to see if he was at risk, too.”

When the brothers started the process of identifying an oncologist and developing their course of treatment, Nix presented the SP robot surgical option to them.

“With our family history, we know a bit more about it than we wish we did,” Rick said. “When we met with Dr. Nix he said, ‘Well, do you want the best?’ Well of course we do, and it’s pretty monumental that we’re doing this together.”

While both surgeries went seamlessly, the potential of the SP robot and its impact in future surgeries in other medical fields like gynecology, otolaryngology and general surgery are exciting.

“The cutting-edge technologies available for our surgeons and our patients demonstrates the pillars of UAB’s strategic plan, Forging the Future, through patient care, innovation, education and community engagement,” said Selwyn Vickers, M.D., dean of UAB’s School of Medicine. “We have set the bar high for ourselves at UAB, and advancements such as surgeries with the SP robot exemplify our commitment to being one of the country’s leading academic medical institutions.”   

Ranked 20th in the country by U.S. News and World Report, UAB’s Department of Urology is the only ranked urology program in the state of Alabama.